command and conquer Game Design Games

I’m currently a bit obsessed with the economy in Command and Conquer Remaster

I’m fully aware that I might just be nuts, but I’m kind of obsessed with the economy in Command and Conquer (Tiberian Dawn) as presented to me via the Remastered Collection.

I did play the original Command and Conquer and Red Alert, but I came to those games way late and never experienced them seriously. The first C&C I was really interested in was Tiberian Sun, and the first one I remember clearly at all was Red Alert 2, and even then I didn’t really stick with them long term, so my memory of their gameplay is a bit foggy at best.

I’m a huge fan of how gameplay in general works in the newer C&C games, and have gotten back into them (at least in terms of skirmish vs the AI and watching competitive replays on YouTube as cast by the likes of Sybert and GreenZero if not actually playing against other people).

Update: there is a video version of this article:

When C&C Remastered came out, I was excited more on principle than anything. The return of the beloved C&C franchise was exciting, even if I didn’t really expect too much in terms of the competitive game. I noodled around in the game, played a bit of the campaign, tried multiplayer a little, watched a couple of VODs, and figured I might be done with the game at that point.

And then I started thinking about how the game’s economy worked. I think it was the VODs I watched that cinched it more than anything. Matches kept coming down to the bitter end, to the wire, with crazy tactics used to by players to claw their way back into the game with just a handful of units or buildings.

Looking at how matches played out, it started to feel to me like the game’s economy was responsible for a good portion of what was happening.

The relatively low time-to-kill for units certainly plays into it: infantry balls are mowed down by vehicles like Flame Tanks or APCs, and even tank balls can crush infantry with relatively minor problems. This can sideline infantry a bit, though it’s surprising how often a player can still make something happen with nothing more than a medium sized blob of Minigunners or Grenadiers or Flame troopers

Structures are costly and there’s little purpose to building multiples of a lot of them, so bases tend to be small, with as few structures as the player can get away with building.

Similarly, Refineries and Harvesters are costly and in limited supply, keeping income constrained as players struggle to scrape together enough funds to purchase more while being able to afford enough units to pressure their opponent or defend against incoming forces.

Most interesting to me, each and every structure is an opportunity to harass the opponent in different ways. Killing the enemy’s ConYard will stop the production of new buildings, but almost as often players will sell their own ConYard for resources and troops to support a combat push in the mid game anyway. Killing a Refinery can slow down a player’s income, but perhaps a Harvester is a better target, since Harvesters can always move to a different Refinery. Even just damaging a structure can be effective harassment since it costs money to repair the structure: money which could have otherwise gone to more units.

But what I love the very most about Tiberian Dawn’s economy is what happens as the game progresses. In the later C&C games, you just move your MCV somewhere else or get a prospector/build radius expansion unit, something to that effect. This isn’t possible in the ladder with the remastered C&C titles (it is possible in custom games however: there’s an option for it). So, on ladder at least, you’re forced to creep across the map by building structures in an extended line to get refineries closer to free Tiberium, or you’re forced to long-distance mine across large swaths of the map in order to keep the money coming in.

So, in effect, in C&C, the longer the match goes on the less money you’re bringing in. The first couple of engagements in C&C are the big ones with lots of units (unless you sell off some buildings, or manage to capture and sell an enemy building or something) but as the match goes on, players typically end up having to scrape together smaller and smaller armies with which to make something happen.

Now, of course, this doesn’t always happen. Due to the high impact design of all of the gameplay systems, one player can get caught with their pants down and lose a couple of key structures early to an Engineer/APC rush, or to a huge mass of GDI Medium Tanks: even a big ball of Grenadiers or Flame Troopers can crush you if you decide to be greedy or fall too far behind on production. Massed Orcas or Nod helicopters, etc. You get it. The sort of equilibrium that takes players into the late game isn’t guaranteed: there are more 2 and 3 minute matches on the C&C ladder than there are 15 and 20 minute matches, for what that’s worth.

For all its bad pathfinding and questionable balance, I’ve found something downright enchanting about the interactions and economics and just… everything about the C&C Remaster. I keep coming back to it almost in spite of myself. I find it inspiring.

This article was a bit different than many of my other ones. It’s likely shorter than my standard (I haven’t measured the word length) and is a bit higher level. I don’t know that I’ll be sharing it around as much as I normally do. But it’s been on my mind lately and here it is, spilled out onto page.

Thanks for reading.

See you on the battlefield.

Shameless plug for my own C&C replay casts on Youtube:

8 comments

  1. I’ve mentioned it on here before (and I’ve also said it on Reddit much to the downvotes of staple RTS players) but a limited, constrained economy makes for a much tighter game. Where SCII just flat out tells the player the most efficient number of units (and lets that boom really quickly) and C&C3 quickly becomes “Queue a dozen harvesters and then forget until you queue a dozen more mass producing with your near infinite money” the constraints of the older RTS system really do seem to offer a much more tense economy for players to interact with. There’s something to be said for only being able to afford a few harvesters for a steep cost.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thank you for your comment! I always worry that these things are just me, that I’m just this crazy person over here loving things about games that no one else likes for inane reasons. Good to know that someone else agrees with me, haha!

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  2. I remember playing the original red alert as well as the second series in multiplayer. Economy didn’t mean much on multiplayer back then. Most matches were won very quickly by a rather large deluge of foot soldiers. By the time you had a chance to build any vehicles your base is overrun and specific buildings destroyed. That was the trend back then

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  3. The less easy something is to replace, the more meaningful it becomes. There’s been a serious trend towards making resources if not simpler, then more streamlined – probes and pylons. If you lose some, just make sure to queue up a few more. The difference between a harvester living or not in TD is absolutely massive, and I appreciate having a few vital pieces rather than a swarm of small replaceable ones.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think you’re right about there’s something alluring about the economy and the limitations of the game. The spikiness of the economy (big eco early that drops off quickly depending on map and refinery placement) isn’t always a bad thing but it can easily run into situations where the game nearly stalemates. This seems to happen more in TD than in other RTS games. Every RTS has some kind of potential for a stalemate, but I think the combination of how the economy typically plays out combined with the game design makes TD particularly susceptible to near stalemates. Late game base defenses can be very difficult to deal with without the proper units, but by the time you get there all of the nearby Tiberium has been harvested so now scraping together those necessary units is difficult or impossible.
    From my observation there seems to be a two phase eco system developing. Early game expansion to one to three nearby fields, then build a bunch of whatever to attack and defend, then tech up and base creep to a late game Tiberium field to fuel your artillery or late game plan. Unlike other RTS games which feature cycles of expansion, TD feeling more punishing because of base creeping. If you try and go to your second eco phase too early you die to whatever your opponent has, too late and you’re stuck with low tech options. The only real counter to getting the timing wrong is to try and exploit an opportunity when your opponent is out of position where you can either dive on their conyard or cut off their late game eco.
    I don’t know that it’s actually good MP design, but there is something interesting about how it all works.

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